wed 19/02/2020

John Grant, Roundhouse review - simplicity, with a bit of space opera | reviews, news & interviews

John Grant, Roundhouse review - simplicity, with a bit of space opera

John Grant, Roundhouse review - simplicity, with a bit of space opera

A varied show from a consummate performer

The presentation may have changed, but Grant is still quite the showmanShawn Brackbill

John Grant’s entry onto the stage was unobtrusive, appropriate for a set-up that consisted of just a grand piano and an electronic keyboard (with accompanying keyboardist). He began with similarly unadorned songs, the ballads that peppered the start and the end of his set. Despite it being a departure from his more orchestrated recorded sound, a strong hint of the space-opera remained, coaxed out by synths and allusive lyrics. His songs are deliciously naughty, a sophisticated, rich sound that is counterbalanced by swear words and a satisfying cynicism. There were times when this wasn’t enough, and the set could feel repetitive, but this was saved by flashes of brilliance, clearest when Grant was playing to the crowd. The staging, despite its simplicity, was uplifted by good lighting, which emphasised key points of the set and helped shift moods without being obviously leading.

Grant opened with “T.C. & Honeybear”, a good carrier for his rich, powerfully deep voice. The lights coalesced into one single sympathetically honey-coloured spot, focusing on his rising voice as it crescendoed. He played a few ballads, some of which used the resident Roundhouse Choir, before singing ‘Geraldine’, which balanced the smooth tenor of Grant’s voice with a creeping minor key. The bathos of his lyrics was shown to perfection in “Where Dreams Go To Die”, an anthemic love song of dislike bordering on hatred.

The set was lit up by “It Doesn’t Matter to Him”, which saw the keyboardist join Grant in an excellent keening harmonisation, playing some great synth that had a flavour of Blade Runner. A soft, aching piano was offset by beeps and deep bass, fading out once more into mournful keys.

After the next song, Grant seemed to come into his own a little more, engaging the audience with humour and kindness (which he did throughout the rest of his set). He introduced the next piece, ‘Touch & Go’, as one of his favourites to play, which showed in his performance. This was demonstrated at various points during the course of the gig, most brilliantly when he beamed out at his audience and met their heckles with amused benevolence. 

Then the big hit – “I Wanna Go To Marz”, for which Grant stepped away from the piano to stand in front of the mic at the front of the stage. Once more, two orange spots lit him and the keyboardist, who had taken Grant’s position at the piano. It was a wonderful song, well performed, and infused with synth-sounds. A few more ballad-like pieces followed, including ‘Outer Space’ and ‘Drug’, which showcased Grant’s rippling melodic shifts. After a short interlude where Grant bantered with the crowd, he played “Caramel”, then “Queen of Denmark”, getting us all to sing that phrase at the end of the song. The strength of his voice was demonstrated well in the latter, as it rose to a shout, angry and defiantly humorous. 

Returning to the front of the stage, and once more with the accompaniment of the choir, Grant sang ‘Glacier’, with its powerfully defiant message undercut by the swelling voices of the choir. After a few more balladlike songs, Grant gave the crowd what they wanted, singing “GMF”: more defiant lyrics with flourishes of his hand. He demonstrated the song’s character well, an arrogance that comes out of insecurity and self-doubt. Grant ended his set on “Chicken Bones”, his keyboardist playing a jazzy piano as Grant moved around the stage. It was these moments that shone, as Grant engaged the audience with a huge grin on his face, a performer who clearly loves performing.

@IndiaLHL

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